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Performance under Pressure. What conditions lead to peak performance?. Most animals like change in their environments. Seek out new things. Innate curiosity. Need for stimulus change. Seek optimal level of arousal. Donald Hebb (1904-1895). Canadian psychologist PhD at age 32.

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what conditions lead to peak performance
What conditions lead to peak performance?
  • Most animals like change in their environments.
  • Seek out new things.
  • Innate curiosity.
  • Need for stimulus change.
  • Seek optimal level of arousal.
donald hebb 1904 1895
Donald Hebb (1904-1895)
  • Canadian psychologist
  • PhD at age 32.
  • Worked with Lashley and Penfield.
  • Neural basis for learning.
  • Organization of Behavior

First text in biopsychology


brain s performance under pressure
Brain’s performance under pressure
  • Relationship between brain arousal and behavioral performance.
  • Novelty sought under low levels of arousal.
  • High levels of arousal (such as panic states) causes a breakdown in performance.
  • Not many people perform well in crisis.
two brain systems at work
Two brain systems at work.
  • Reticular formation: responsible for keeping the brain alert.
  • Autonomic NS: mobilizing the body to meet needs of the situation, more alert or more calm.
reticular formation
Reticular Formation
  • Sensory input stimulates RF.
  • Cortex aroused to process info.
  • Also downward tract to improve your speed and coordination.
  • Peak performance
autonomic nervous system
Autonomic Nervous System
  • Sympathetic arousal for states of emergency.
  • Heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, perspiration (cool body).
  • Parasympathetic arousal for calm states.
  • Digestion, rest.
arousal and performance
Arousal and Performance
  • Hebb portrayed this relationship as graph.






study people in extreme conditions
Study people in extreme conditions.
  • Korean war POW’s
  • Brainwashing.
  • Solitary confinement.
  • “Manchurian Candidate”.
  • Concerns about POW’s in future wars.
  • Prevent brainwashing.
  • Sensory deprivation.
sensory deprivation
Sensory Deprivation
  • Woodburn Heron (1957).
  • Pathology of Boredom.
  • Subject $20 a day to lay in bed.
  • Deprived of sensory input
  • Vision, hearing, touch.
  • Food and water on demand.
  • Bathroom breaks.
heron s subjects
Heron’s subjects
  • Most happy to be in study.
  • Get a good rest, nothing to do.
  • Soon unable to concentrate.
  • Mind began to wander.
  • Started to hallucinate.
sensory deprivation hallucinations
Sensory Deprivation Hallucinations
  • A marching procession of squirrels carrying sacks.
  • Prehistoric animals walking in the jungle.
  • Eyeglasses dancing down the street.
  • Subjects began to look forward to images to relieve boredom.
concerns from space program
Concerns from space program
  • USA just beginning flights of solo astronauts.
  • How would they perform in isolation for long periods of time?
  • Short solo flights.
  • Start the Gemini program with two astronauts per flight.
  • Prevent sensory deprivation.
applications to work
Applications to work
  • Factory work with too little stimulation may lead to mistakes.
  • Repetitive mindless tasks.
  • Drill press and piece work.
  • On-the-job accidents.
other extreme sensory overload
Other extreme: Sensory Overload
  • In Civil War, only 25% of soldiers remembered to fire muskets during combat.
  • When cleaning up the battlefield, some muskets with 5 charges in barrel.
  • Kept loading musket but didn’t fire it.
world trade center 9 11
World Trade Center 9/11
  • Stories of people who helped others to safety.
  • Most people don’t think clearly in crisis situation.
  • Police and fire departments trained to handle emergencies.
  • Stage simulations to get practice.
bystander intervention
Bystander intervention
  • Most people who stop to offer assistance are trained as first responders.
  • Fire, police, EMT.
  • Untrained people unwilling to act because they don’t know what to do.
  • Red Cross trainings.
arousal and attention
Arousal and Attention
  • First responders also trained to focus on main problem.
  • Less likely to get distracted by less important things.
  • Psychologists also study the relationship between arousal and attention.
easterbrook s theory
Easterbrook’s Theory








a ride in the country
A ride in the country
  • At low levels of arousal, attention is broad.
  • Take in the whole countryside.
  • Two German shepherds take off after you.
  • Level of arousal goes too high.
  • Focus only on dogs.
  • Don’t notice truck backing out
  • into road in front of you.
optimal level
Optimal level
  • Somewhere between those the two extremes in the optimal level.
  • Low level of arousal, too unfocused.
  • High level, tunnel vision.
attention deficit disorder
Attention Deficit Disorder
  • ADD
  • Sometimes include hyperactivity, then ADHD.
  • Former title was hyperactive.
  • Confusing because ADD treated with mild amphetamines like Ritalin.
  • How could stimulant calm down a child?
main symptom is attention
Main symptom is attention
  • Easterbrook: low attention  poor focus.
  • Poor focus leads to distractibility.
  • Do other things (hyperactive).
  • Ex: young children watching romantic comedy.
  • Increase attention  improve focus.
  • Not distracted. Sit in their seats.
  • Ex: same kids at Disney film.
improving attention
Improving attention
  • Ritalin raises arousal to moderate levels.
  • Improve focus.
  • Reduce distractions.
  • Reduce other activities while concentrating on school work.
debate over ritalin
Debate over Ritalin
  • Accurate diagnosis.
  • Other problems in family.
  • Not seeking other solutions.
  • Pill-fixable problem.
  • Long term effects.
  • May need drug as adult.
  • Need long-term studies.